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'Huge clouds of smoke': Two fires in one day at Billings refinery leave neighbors worried

Fires occurred at Phillips 66 Billings Refinery
Photo of the first fire by Josh Antrim
Posted at 3:20 PM, Feb 10, 2024

BILLINGS — A fire reignited at the Phillips 66 Billings Refinery Friday evening, hours after an initial blaze sent a plume of black smoke into the sky. The cause has not yet been released.

"I went outside and it’s just huge clouds of smoke,” said Lina Rae, a Billings resident, on Saturday. “When you see huge clouds of pitch-black smoke and it’s so thick, it scares you a little."

Black smoke filled the sky twice in one day.

Photo of the first fire by Josh Antrim
Photo of the first fire by Josh Antrim

It caused concern for residents across town.

"I was very afraid that something catastrophic was going to happen,” said Josh Antrim, a Billings resident, on Friday.

According to a spokesperson from Phillips 66, around 2:30 pm, an event occurred at the refinery resulting in a fire. No injuries were reported. MTN News reached back out to the spokesperson on Saturday, inquiring about the cause and the extent of damage, but was sent the same statements from Friday in response.

"It’s scary because then you don’t know if you should be leaving," Rae said. "You don’t know if you should be calling people and letting them know."

Lina Rae
Lina Rae

Around 7 p.m., a second fire broke out. Again, no injuries were reported.

"We heard the siren and it was kind of like, we all kind of looked at each other because it was another one,” Rae said. "So we went out and we looked, and you couldn’t really tell, but you could see it again. The pitch black, dark, thick smoke all behind the refinery."

Photo of the 2nd fire by Lina Rae
Photo of the 2nd fire by Lina Rae

Rae has lived right by the Phillips 66 Billings Refinery her entire life. She’s never had a problem with where she lives but is beginning to grow worried after a September fire at the refinery, followed by Friday's fires, and the lack of information communicated.

"There were sheriffs parked in the parking lot," Rae said. "So we asked them, ‘Is there any reason, like, should we be evacuating?’ And they said they didn’t know either. Not yet, as they know of."

The chaos was captured on camera by Antrim.

Josh Antrim with his drone
Josh Antrim with his drone

"I noticed a little bit of black smoke coming off in the horizon, so I was like, ‘Alright. Let’s see what I could do.’" Antrim said. “If I see something on the horizon, you best bet I’m going to be loading up my car and taking off to see what’s going on. I’m nosey."

He had just purchased his drone four days prior and was testing it out, getting shots of town.

“I’ve wrecked it twice and it’s a learning experience...You never know what you’re going to just randomly happen to see or to find," Antrim said. "Get into a hobby where you can have fun. And that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m 33 years old I’m finally getting to be a teenager."

He ended up being in the right place at the right time.

"I flew as fast as I could over there and I caught some amazing shots," Antrim said. "I was about to turn around and then I saw a stream of water come from nowhere. And I’m like, ‘Oh, they’re fighting it. Awesome.’”

Drone shot of the fire by Josh Antrim
Drone shot of the fire by Josh Antrim

Thanks to the Billings Fire Department, the blazes were quickly extinguished. But neighbors like Rae are still worried about the future.

"You don’t know like, why is it happening again? And do they have control of it?” Rae said.

To learn more about Friday's fires, click here.

To learn more about the September fire, click here.